ORLANDO, Fla. -- Once again, the Twins have entered the offseason with a crystal-clear goal atop their list of priorities. And once again, Minnesota's top priority remains the same: improve the starting pitching.
If there was any doubt about that mission, and how badly it's needed, Twins general manager Terry Ryan cut straight to the point when asked Tuesday at the General Managers Meetings about his goals for the offseason.
"We need starting pitching. Everybody recognizes that with our starting pitching, we just didn't have enough depth, we didn't have enough innings, we didn't have enough quality starts, that type of stuff," Ryan said. "We need starting pitching, first and foremost. Our relief corps was pretty decent. We overexposed them, as I've mentioned many times. For the most part, if we can solidify that starting pitching, I think it'll help our cause in a lot of areas.
"We've got concerns, but I think probably the pitching staff's the first and foremost."
Ryan said he won't limit himself to the free-agent market to pick up starters, noting that he'd consider addressing the need via trades, internal promotions, Rule 5 Draft picks, waiver claims and so on. But there are plenty of options on the open market this winter.
It's unlikely that Minnesota will get into any bidding wars over the top class of free-agent starters, the Masahiro Tanakas and Ubaldo Jimenezes of the world. But the Twins do have some payroll flexibility, and there is a second tier of pitchers that could fit well in the Twin Cities, like Scott Kazmir, Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco and Scott Feldman.
The Twins made similar plans last winter, looking to improve a rotation that finished 2012 with the second-worst ERA in the Majors. They picked up free agents Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey and acquired Vance Worley in a trade with the Phillies, only to wind up with the worst rotation ERA in baseball: a 5.26 mark that was nearly half a run greater than Toronto's 4.81.
Ryan declined to discuss any specific free agents, but he did provide his general impression of the class he hopes to pick from to finally fix up Minnesota's starting rotation.
"There's some quality out there. There are people out there that interest us, just like probably about 25 other clubs," Ryan said. "There's not too many teams that can't use some quality starting pitching."
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. National reporter Barry Bloom contributed to this report.